Off to Australia
When we discussed the idea of a family vacation a year ago everyone readily agreed. An all expense vacation and the only catch was having to spend it with my family. No problem! We set dates readily but then had to decide on a destination. We had to satisfy all 11 people and that would prove harder than we thought. Some would have been happy with a domestic trip, others were weather and temperature-centric in their preferences, while others wanted to crawl new corners of the globe.
Ultimately it became clear that Australia met our criteria but I don’t think it was anyone’s first choice. While not a domestic location, the language was fairly easy to get the hang of, the weather was full summer and it was definitely a new corner of the globe for many of us. So while none of began the process “craving” Australia we ultimately couldn’t have been happier with our selection.
For this family the perfect vacation requires plenty of animals, some water, and plenty of adventurous activities. Australia met all of these requirements. We traveled from Sydney to Cairns to Adelaide with a jaunt to Kangaroo Island.
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Here are some of my highlights from a very fun trip:
We arrived to a rainy Sydney and saw relatively little sun during our visit. This would not be the only rain we encountered and yet the rain never impacted us, except once. On the first night we all stared at each other when it came to finding a place to eat dinner. I decided to take charge. I Yelped Sydney, found a place that seemed reasonable. After checking it out with the group and getting “yes’s” all around, I consulted Yelp which told me it was a 9 minute walk. Perfect. As we stepped outside the sky opened up and instead of 9 minutes it quickly became a 9 gallon walk. Few of us had umbrellas or proper rain gear. The restaurant wasn’t where it was supposed to be (according to Yelp), we kept walking. We kept getting wetter. Long past 9 minutes. We ultimately gave up. My leadership was questioned. We found an alternative which was probably a better choice in the first place. Seeing the family turn so quickly on me like that convinced me that I was moments away from seeing Phil from the Amazing Race telling me, "I'm sorry to tell you that you've been eliminated from the Race." Luckily my restaurant incompetence spared me from the responsibility of repeating in the role of restaurant leader.
We had schnitzel twice on this trip. This is huge for me because I can never get enough of the stuff and my wife hates it, hates the restaurants that serve it and is an expert at avoiding schnitzel opportunities. I especially enjoyed the Schnit House in Adelaide, Australia. The place was full of Schnit. I selected their Pile of Schnit entrée and would recommend it to anyone likes Schnit.
Has there ever been a contest about the prettiest bay city? I can think of some pretty ones (Hong Kong, San Diego, Boston) but I think Sydney wins it hands down. Sorry, San Francisco.
I don’t like to over prepare for vacations. While Eve buys multiple travel guides and prepares like a pro, I prefer to coast on her coattails for the important stuff. This time around my preparation was limited to a careful watching of the Modern Family episode where they visit Australia. Sadly, the expectations set in that episode did not materialize—there were no topless sun bathers on Bondi beach.
Our trip to Bondi beach involved taking a public bus. I love taking public transportation and yet with every new city that first trip on any system is always incredibly stressful for me. Add to that I was taking the lead to navigate 8 of us by bus and frankly that’s more stress than any vacationer should have had to weather. The good news is that I’m now an expert. The bad news is that there was a sign on the bus announcing that the system I learned was officially ending in 10 days.
From Sydney we flew to Cairns to experience the Great Barrier Reef. The natives swear they are actually pronouncing the “R” but after careful listening all I hear is “Cannes.” If only I had more time, there is so much I could teach that country.
As a California draught professional, I didn't have a strong understanding for exactly how much water is capable from falling from the sky at one moment. The expression “coming down in buckets” really didn’t do justice to the downpours we saw. It looked more like the whole town was sitting beneath a waterfall. And all this water made it impossible to hear the person sitting across the table in this outdoor (but covered) restaurant. Magically, as with most of our trip, when it was time to leave the rain stopped.
Snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef should be on everyone's bucket list. Frankly it wasn't on mine, but after an amazing day with the stroke of a pen I both added it to my bucket list and proudly checked it off. I think we all loved this day…even my aging mother managed the adventure just although she was thrilled to get a tow back to the boat. I've snorkeled plenty in my life, and have seen plenty of bright colorful fish, but the reef itself is the real attraction here. Sorry I didn’t bring my camera in the water and I fear the video won’t do justice to.
Speaking of bucket lists, petting a koala and a kangaroo were never things I felt were important in life and yet I'm a better person for the experience. The koala is more cuddly in person than it ever looked in pictures (and it looks pretty cuddly in pictures) and the kangaroo petting zoo we visited presented a gentle animal that seemingly would make an excellent house pet.
Some of us signed up for the most adventurous part of the trip…white water rafting. My previous experience was limited to rides in amusement parks or, if it counts, floating down the Truckee River. Neither of these come close to the thrill of navigating level 4 rapids. I'm told that rafting rivers are rated on a scale of 1 to 6 and that if someone survives a 6 it gets re-rated to a 5. We traveled almost four hours each way to spend four hours navigating the level 4 Tully River and it was quite literally a thrill a minute. Loved every minute, but the pictures make me look more pensive than I remember feeling.
At one point on the river rafting trip our guide was not happy with my performance. I was apparently out of synch with the rest of the boat. He called me a "hairy nosed wombat" and that nick name stuck.
Australia looks at adulthood more consistently than Americans do. At 18 you get to do everything from drink to drive to gamble. In the United States you begin your ascent into adulthood at various ages. But this trip afforded the 19 year old Scott an opportunity for some real time gambling (I think he passed on the drinking opportunities). The two of us teamed up for a romp through the casino. Sadly we struggled to figure out their slot machines (nothing like ours)…where was a good old fashion poker machine when you wanted one?! Team Harris walked out of there strutting with our AUS$70 profit. Clearly we’re players all around the world.
We learned that when Captain Cook first saw a Kangaroo he marched up to an aboriginal and asked what kind of animal that was to which the response was "kangaroo" which loosely translates to "I don't understand what you are saying.
My mother saw the store "Woolworths" all over Australia. While defunct as a US brand it apparently lives as an Australian brand. In my mother’s mind it was a door back into her childhood. Hoping to rekindle dusty memories of her youth she went on a three city quest to shop at Woolworths and yet the Aussies have this un-American way of closing their stores at 5:30 PM around the country. Poor Linda was afforded little more than a peak inside what looked, even to her discerning eye, as just a supermarket.
We heard a few “g’day’s” no one mentioned anything about “shrimp on the barbie” but what we heard out of almost every person we encountered “no worries.”
My son is an important person...very busy and very well connected. But bring two computers to Australia was just wrong. I know there were reasons and yet it was still wrong.
New Year’s Eve lasted a full 40 hours for us. We were up at 4am Australia time to begin our three flight journey that lasted well over 24 hours. We arrived home about 1PM on New Year’s Eve and no, this year I definitely did not make it to midnight.
December 31, 2015
© Greg Harris, 2016
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